Alhaji Yusuf Garba Ali, one-time Managing Director, Unipetrol Nigeria Ltd, and former National Chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), is always forthright in his analysis. In this interview, the one–time National President of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) bared his mind on the ongoing national conference, saying it clearly represents a misplaced priority for a nation grabbling with so many hydra-headed problems. He also reviewed issues in his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), stressing that all aspirants, including General Muhammadu Buhari, would go through primaries to emerge as the party’s candidates in any election. He spoke more on this and other national issues with Desmond Mgboh in Kano. Excerpts:
Sir, what is responsible for your long silence? While a lot is happening, it just seems as if you are not around?
Yes, I have been quiet, but honestly I am not silent as such. I never left politics. I am one of the leaders of APC. And before this time, I was one of the elders of Action Congress of Nigeria and now we are in APC. Honestly, I decided to be quiet because I have done a lot of talking before now, as such I decided to contribute within an inner circle. The truth is that you keep on talking, yet nobody listens.
The birth of APC seems to have come with so many promises. Do you still believe that APC, in the light of its own internal challenges, can match its initial promises? Crisis here, quarrel there?
I think you know that as a new party merging together with several other parties, you are bringing three or four political parties together with different people. Not only the parties but the people too. For you to bring them together and mix them together, it would take time. A lot of people are different. Their thinking and mentality are different. What they were used to in their own parties are different from what it is in the new party. What APC is trying to do is to harness and bring a policy, party policy that would override all the ambitions and differences of all these political parties and backgrounds and make them one.
Talking about the APC’s manifesto that was recently unfolded to Nigerians, what, in your opinion, is spectacular about the document? What makes it tick?
Well, one of the most important things about APC as a party – and its manifesto- is its stand on corruption. Here is a party that represents anti-corruption. As far as I am concerned, the greatest problem afflicting this country today is corruption. Corruption causes all the malaise that we are in today. Can you imagine today that even Mugabe, the same Robert Mugabe, is abusing Nigeria on corruption? We have come so low. Majority of Nigerians want to be rich for doing nothing. So, if we are able- we cannot say that we would wipe off corruption completely, but if APC is able to reduce corruption within the society and in the government, then every other thing would fall in line. That is my belief. This is because if you reduce corruption, then you must have discipline. If you reduce corruption, you must have work ethics and if you reduce corruption, you can be sure that all this malaise of armed robbery must be a thing of the past and if you reduce corruption, you would be able to save money and employ more people.
Has it ever occurred to you that majority of Nigerians do not believe APC when it talks about anti-corruption. The argument is that a few APC leaders, the same ones talking about corruption, appear corrupt in their private and public businesses?
Well, if you are talking about private business, we have nothing to do with private business. If the government is straight, then you have to fall in line. Everybody would fall in line. Let me give you an example. If look at what is happening in states where APC is in control- in most of them, I am not saying a hundred per cent- you can see that there is development, you can see that corruption is at the lowest ebb, you see that they are paying more attention to education, you can see that even agriculture is receiving the greatest attention. Housekeeping – what do I mean by housekeeping? Cleanliness of the society- you see that the streets are much cleaner. You don’t see the affluence of a governor if you go to some of these states.
Are you saying that we do not have this kind of developments in PDP-controlled states?
Well, I am yet to see it. I am not saying that 100 per cent PDP states don’t have this kind of development. But they are very few. Maybe if you go to Enugu, you can see some difference…
(Cuts in) What about Akwa Ibom?
Look when you talk about Akwa Ibom State, have you compared the amount of money that AKwa Ibom is getting from the Federation Account? Compare these amounts.
But what about the amount the APC states like Kano and Lagos states are getting from the same account?
Which Kano? You can’t, my friend. Can you compare the development in Lagos and the development in Akwa Ibom? Never! I mean Lagos is getting money from internally generated revenue.
But it is still money?
But it is not the same. It is them who worked for it and it is their planning. It is their planning that resulted in the money. Can you compare Kano of today and Kano of two years ago? Can’t you see progress? Can’t you see that there is a change? You can’t compare the two eras. And it is because the governor of Kano State, Engineer Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is making good use of his internally generated revenue. You can’t compare Akwa Ibom State with any other state in this country in terms of the amount of money they receive, except maybe Delta and Bayelsa states.
Let us discuss something that is happening to APC. You have lost a number of your big time players who were part of the construction of the party like Mallam Shekarau, Attahiru Bafarawa and others who were forced to leave?
We didn’t force anybody to leave. They chose to leave. I am one of the people asked to work on the reconciliation with them and they chose to go. And we are in democratic society. You cannot force somebody. If Shekarau is saying that he cannot allow Kwankwaso to be called the leader of the party in Kano, if that is his only complaint, I don’t think that he is right. I was a national chairman of ANPP, Shekarau was under me but when Shekarau was a governor, he called a meeting and I attended, I was on the floor. He was the one speaking. That is respect. I was there when he was elected, he was not even elected, but he became the governor of Kano State. And as a National Chairman of the party, he called a meeting and I attended.
Sir, the MOU that handed over the leadership of the party to the defected governors is branded a fraud that was not thoroughly discussed by major stakeholders of the party. Some people claimed that it was smuggled into reality by a few eggheads of the party?
I don’t know who told you that. There is nothing like that. You cannot smuggle such a thing into the party.
But was it agreed to by everybody and every stakeholder?
It was agreed. There is no way you can have a governor in a state and you think that somebody else is going to control the party. You cannot do that. If anybody tells you that it was smuggled, it is a big lie. I have been part of the formation of APC from zero to where we are. And I can tell you that I played a very prominent role even before Shekarau joined the concept. I only refused to talk. The whole thing about APC started with Chief Audu Ogbe and myself and there is nothing hidden to me.
A number of deputy governors and principal officers in states where PDP governors defected into APC are still “body in APC but souls in PDP”. And we have cases like that of Sokoto where the deputy governor did not just go. How are you taking this?
I do not agree with you. The only thing we know is that the deputy governor of Sokoto State remains with his party and he made it quite clear that he is going to remain with the PDP, but he would obey the instruction of his governor until the end of their tenure. But you see, this is politics. This is the problem with Nigerians. They do not believe that two brothers could belong to two different political parties and yet remain in the same house.
Maybe what Nigerians didn’t anticipate is the probability of two people elected on the platform of the same party to run a government now belonging to two different parties, yet maintaining the same government. That is what Nigerians find strange?
Are they not Nigerians? Are they not playing politics? I may like that party. From the beginning, I may like that party and we became one. Later on, I decided that I don’t like that party anymore and I want to change.
In some of these PDP to APC defected governors’ states, their governors proclaimed that they have moved with everybody, but with the realities on the ground, not all senators, reps and state House of assembly members moved with them. How do you see these contradictions?
I doubt if these governors ever made claims that that they have moved with everybody in their party to APC. Of course, it is only estimated that when the governors move, a majority of stakeholders would move with him.
Looking at the arrival of the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar into the APC, do you still see the prospects of an automatic ticket for General Muhammadu Buhari?
APC is a democratic party. I do not think that there is an automatic ticket for anybody in the party. For any position where we have candidates, there is going to be primaries.
As a mark of respect, Buhari has always got automatic tickets?
It is a mark of respect in his previous political parties – ANPP and CPC, and even there, it is because other candidates withdrew for him. It is not that the parties say that nobody should contest. No! Other candidates who were willing to contest withdrew. Of course, there is no compulsion in APC. We don’t do a mockery and say let just have a show. No! Once we have a contestant interested in any position, there is going to be primaries.
Buhari may not want it…?
General Buhari is a democrat. He believes in the rule of law. Therefore, there is no way… don’t tell me General Buhari would not go for primaries, it is wrong! I believe that Buhari would agree to go for primaries.
And what are his chances bearing in mind that he is strong at the grassroots level but not at the elite or middle class level?
Politics, can you predict it? Nobody can predict it. I think he stands a good chance like any other candidate of the party.
Let us look at the ongoing national conference. Does it offer any serious promise to Nigerians?
I think it is good that Nigerians should talk. I believe that we should look at issues, but the timing is wrong and you cannot select people and ask them to go and talk on behalf of Nigerians. They were selected, they were not elected. So, we are yet to see the purpose of that conference. We are going for election, next year, to elect a new government and you want again to come and have a constitutional conference, a conference which whatever they decide, if it has anything to do with the constitution, the National Assembly will have to pass that. The National Assembly, which has budget and other issues to worry about, when would it have the time to look at the recommendations of these august or eminent personalities? And whatever they decide, the president has no right to implement it. It has to go to the National Assembly. If it affects constitutional amendment, it has to go to all the states’ Houses of Assembly. Do you imagine that we are going to spend N7 billion- I don’t know how much it is we are spending on it. Is this figure not enough to give our youths employment, to reduce unemployment rate in this country? Why do we need to waste money and time? Why? How many million unemployed do we have in this country? Look at the stadium. I have never seen the national stadium on any football match filled like it was filled on the day of the recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service. We can use that money to create jobs. That is more important. I think we are getting our priorities wrong.
There is also concern about the size of money being paid to members of the national conference?
This is what I have been saying. Why do the conference at all, not just the allowance? Why not use the whole money to create jobs for the people. I don’t see any reason why. The rich are getting more money and the poor are becoming poorer. There is none of those delegates who cannot afford an accommodation for themselves, but you are giving them N12million? How many young men can you employ with N12m? Can you sit down and calculate? Our priorities are always wrong. That is the reason I said that I had stopped talking because nobody cares.
Sir, I assume that you must have attended similar conferences at different times in the past and allowances were paid. You didn’t see it as being wrong then, why do you now see it as wrong today?
Let me say one thing, I attended two conferences in Nigeria. I attended the constitutional conference of seventy something, maybe seventy eight. We have not got this malaise. We have not got this unemployment rate today. We haven’t. I attended the vision 2010, organized by General Buhari. He did not pay allowances. Every chief executive contributed. The only thing they gave you is a room accommodation, one single room at NICON with fanta. If you want beer, you pay. If you want a better room for yourself, you pay from your pocket. No allowances. And all of us, all chief executives in this country, contributed for the running of that Vision 2010. We contributed our staff, we contributed vehicles to the government. So I did not attend a conference where money was being dished out to me. And 1978 constitutional conference, Nigeria was a much better country than now.
There are arguments that in the light of the problems confronting the country, the National Conference is a step in tackling these problems?
Listen, let me tell you all the problems we have in this country, as I said to you earlier, is poverty and corruption. And the solution is let us correct it. Let us try and reduce corruption to the barest minimum. EFCC cannot fight corruption alone. Unless you have the right people at the right places, only then you will fight corruption. Unless you have people who are patriotic. Then let the government become serious in punishing people. If the government would close its eyes and ensure that they execute the recommendations of the EFCC. Some would go to court today and they would dilly dally on their cases until after two years, then you will hear that the man has been released. By which time, you have forgotten about the case. And even the newspapers are not helping matters.
You will see a headline tomorrow saying, “Billions have been stolen.” That is the end of the story. No Newspaper follows that story to its conclusion. They will give you headline, something has been done, though nobody follows it up. It ends there. The newspapers should be able to systematically follow this sort of story until they reach its logical conclusion. Not to forget it. You give it sensational headlines and you forget. And, of course, the case will be adjourned and adjourned and adjourned. And the same man would come back and he is celebrated in his local society because of his money-ill-gotten wealth.